Made in Tampa: The Buffalo Wings press field

Made in Tampa: The Buffalo Wings press box

Imagine the Super Bowl. Really imagine every sporting event you would watch on TV. Now imagine a meal that you could enjoy while watching the event. You are probably envisioning a plate with wings on it.

Since it was invented just 56 years ago in the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, chicken wings – Buffalo wings, to be precise – have become synonymous with television. Last year, the National Chicken Council estimated that Americans would only eat 1.4 billion chicken wings on Super Bowl Sunday.

But our favorite soccer snack started out as kitchen scrap. In 1964, Teressa Bellissimo, the owner of the Anchor Bar in Snow-Covered Buffalo, fried some chicken wings that usually went into the stockpot as a night bite for her son Dominic and his friends. To give them a kick, she created a secret flavorful sauce to coat the wings. With this first batch, history was made. The Anchor Bar added these “Buffalo Wings” to the menu, and the hand bites spread to bars across the country.

The rise of the Buffalo wing coincided with the rise of the sports bar in the 1970s and 1980s, when more watering holes installed multiple TVs and subscribed to cable packages so customers could drink, eat, and watch the games for hours. So wings became inseparable from sport.

Another important date in the history of the Buffalo wing is 1918, when Louisiana pepper maker Adam Estillete and the owner of the spice company Jacob Frank first created Frank’s RedHot sauce. The mixture of cayenne pepper, garlic powder, salt and vinegar became the main ingredient in the Bellissimo buffalo sauce recipe. While the Anchor Bar still claims a number of “secret ingredients” in their sauce, the list of ingredients in the bottle version (available in a reasonable 12 ounce size or a staggering 1 gallon size) includes francs and margarine, a typical ingredient the Buffalo Wing Sauce.

Buffalo Wings didn’t make it to Tampa until 1978 when Bill Frill brought an almost identical version of the Anchor Bar Sauce with him when he moved to Tampa from Buffalo. He bought the steakhouse on the corner of Dale Mabry Highway and Platt Street and converted it into the Press Box Sports Bar – the first of its kind in Tampa. Of course, he put the most famous bar in his hometown on the menu. Customers weren’t entirely sure what to think as this would be Tampa’s first introduction to the dish.

“A lot of people didn’t know what they were, so he passed them on to customers to try,” explains Walter Hill, who has been with the Press Box since 1987 and now owns the bar. People got it pretty quickly. “They became a huge success,” adds Hill.

Press box owner Walter Hill

To this day, Frank’s RedHot sauce forms the basis of the Press Box’s Buffalo Wing Sauce (the bestseller of their over 20 chicken wing flavors).

“We tried to switch it to different sauces, but customers prefer Frank’s hot sauce. So we’re sticking to it, ”explains Hill. The other keys to a successful wing? Fresh, non-frozen chicken, fry the wings for about 15 minutes and then throw them away so that the sauce sticks to the fat. Hill’s team cut their wings themselves, preferring to leave the tips on the parts of the wing usually called “flats” (the tips work like handles to hold the wing in place, Hill explains).

After 42 years, Hill believes they even have the OG beat.

“I went to the original anchor bar. I had the wings there and I still think ours are better, ”Hill says with a laugh.

While this cannot be proven empirically, the Press Box wing sales certainly suggest that Tampa will agree. According to Hill, the bar goes through 40 cases of wings every week. Each case contains 40 pounds, or roughly 240 individual wings – so that’s roughly 499,000 wings served each year.

On the last Super Bowl Sunday alone, 14,000 grand pianos were produced in the Press Box kitchen, mostly for take-away orders that have been in for a week. Take-out wing contracts were also what sustained the bar during the worst of government-mandated shutdowns.

“When we were closed and only making take-away, we sold so many grand pianos that it really didn’t affect us,” explains Hill. “Our regular guests kept us open with their orders.”

Dry-rubbed wings, like these Cajun-dusted drums, are a huge hit, Hill says.

Press Box regulars include sports stars like Derek Jeter (who’s mostly take-out when he’s in town these days, Hill adds), while the wing’s notoriety has caught the attention of even big-name celebrities like Clint Eastwood and Justin Bieber Has.

“He stopped by before going to his concert. He came here and sat in one of the cubicles and ate chicken wings. He was all alone, he only had two security guards with him, ”says Hill. “We had no idea he was coming in.” Whether you’re a teen idol, an eighty-year-old movie director, or the guy who lives across from the press box and keeps the same order every day when the bar opens at 11 a.m., there’s something about a crispy chicken with a perfect sauce Wing that brings completely different people together. “It’s an item that can be shared with people,” notes Hill. “People like finger foods that are easy to eat.”

Especially when watching a game. Combine wings with two sports teams to stand up for or against, and an end note to celebrate or mourn, and you’ve got a decidedly American tradition.

Does Walter Hill ever think he can get sick of chicken wings? He doesn’t hesitate for a second before shaking his head.

“No,” he says. “No. There are some days when I sit there and think I’m going to eat chicken wings again? And it’s like that, yes, I am. But they’re so good.”

Joseph Hubbard

Joseph Hubbard is a seasoned journalist passionate about uncovering stories and reporting on events that shape our world. With a strong background in journalism, he has dedicated his career to providing accurate, unbiased, and insightful news coverage to the public.

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